THE HAGUE, Netherlands – The U.N. war crimes tribunal ruled Thursday that former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic will be appointed a lawyer to represent him whenever he fails to appear in court.
It also postponed the resumption of his trial until March 1, 2010, when the new lawyer should be ready to take over if needed.
The decision comes after Karadzic boycotted the start of his war crimes trial last week, arguing that he has not had enough time to prepare his defense.
Karadzic, accused of masterminding Serb atrocities throughout the 1992-1995 Bosnian war, faces two counts of genocide and nine other charges of crimes against humanity. He has refused to enter pleas, but insists he is innocent of all charges.
The decision allows Karadzic to continue to represent himself in court for the time being. However, it said Karadzic should cooperate with the new lawyer in preparing his defense.
One of his legal advisers, Marko Sladojevic, said Karadzic is still examining the ruling and would react next week.
"We may file a submission or a motion or even an appeal," Sladojevic said in a telephone interview. He said he had not yet discussed the ruling with Karadzic.
Presiding judge O-Gon Kwon wrote that should Karadzic "continue to absent himself from the resumed trial proceedings in March, or should he engage in any other conduct that obstructs the proper and expeditious conduct of the trial, he will forfeit his right to self-representation ... and the appointed counsel will take over."
Karadzic says he has not had enough time to prepare his defense even though he was indicted in 1995 and has been in custody for 14 months.
After the prosecution's opening statement last week, the trial will resume with Karadzic's opening statement.
The prosecution said Karadzic, as the top political leader of the Bosnian Serbs, commanded a brutal campaign to ethnically cleanse Muslims and Croats from territory his people coveted.
The campaign included the deadly 44-month siege of the capital, Sarajevo, and culminated in the 1995 massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the eastern enclave of Srebrenica.
The court wants to avoid Karadzic's trial becoming a repeat of that of his political mentor, former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, whose stalling tactics and ill health dragged his trial out for more than four years.
Milosevic died of a heart attack in 2006 before a verdict could be rendered.
Karadzic has already "substantially and persistently obstructed the proper and expeditious conduct of his trial by refusing to attend the proceedings until such time as he considers himself to be ready," Kwon wrote.
That "effectively brought the trial to a halt, which is evidently his purpose."
Writing for the three-judge panel hearing the case, Kwon warned Karadzic not to spend time preparing political speeches, rather than a defense against the charges he will face, which carry a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Karadzic "cannot reasonably claim to require many more months to prepare for trial when his preparation includes matters that are not, and will not be, the subject of the trial," Kwon said, citing statements by Karadzic that he plans to show who was responsible for "the outbreak of the war."
Sladojevic said Karadzic and his team of legal advisers would go as fast as they could to prepare for the trial's resumption.
"We will try to hurry up," he said.